It’s not hard to understand why some book publishers are keen on DRM (Digital Rights Management encryption software which limits the potential uses of the file).
They’ve seen the music and film businesses struggle in the face of mass piracy.
The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry estimates that some 95 per cent of global music downloads are illegal.
Ebook files can be downloaded illegally just as easily, even when they are “protected” by DRM.
There are few statistics on the phenomenon, but according to Google, there were between 1.5 million to 3 million searches for pirated books per day on its search engine in 2010.
The German Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association said in 2011 that illegal down some 60 percent of electronic books were being downloaded illegally there.
I can honestly say I’ve never tried it, but people tell me you can find online instructions for stripping DRM from an ebook, and complete the process, in seconds.
These same people use this knowledge in what I’d see as an ethical manner. They buy books from different retailers then strip the DRM so that they can read them all on any device or app (so for example, stripping the Kindle’s walled garden DRM would allow you to read a Kindle ebook on a non-Kindle e-ink ereader).
Amazon won’t like it, and it contravenes their licence agreements with consumers, but given these individuals have paid for the book, why shouldn’t they be able to choose how they read it and on which device?
Stubborn policies like those of Amazon and Apple restricting the use of their ebooks to specific platforms are among the key reasons for ebook piracy.
Other such “ethical” reasons include consumer views that as they have paid for a book, they should be able to lend it to a friend just as they could a printed book; and that they deserve a right to permanent access to their ebook library, whichever retailer they’ve purchased it from.
DRM is the enemy of these well-meaning ebook buyers. Some see it as such an evil they actively lobby against its implementation. Check out Defective by Design and you’ll see what I mean.
There are less noble pirates who are just lazy, ignorant of the law, or utterly unconcerned about breaking it, and it is possible that DRM makes some difference in their levels of piracy.
Often, illegal downloading is driven by a frustration over availability of content, or high prices. Consumers learn via social networks of a book, film or television series that is taking off overseas, try to download it legally, and discover that it is not available in their market for territorial copyright reasons, or in their preferred format due to complex licencing agreements (or the publisher’s lack of technical expertise). Keen to consume the content as soon as possible, they turn pirate.
A shopper compares the high Australian price of a book with that of its much cheaper US equivalent and in frustration, turns to an illegal download service.
A busy would-be customer ponders the complex registration process required to download one file, and decides piracy is easier.
Solution? Publishers and booksellers need to make their content available in a timely manner, for quick and easy download using as many platforms as the consumer desires, and at a reasonable price.
If they do this, and have faith in the market, DRM will become redundant.
In fact, I reckon it’s on the way out already. Read my next post to find out what’s led me to this conclusion.